Wuhan is back at work. Companies are gradually resuming work in the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, Chinese authorities announced. While the factories that make essentials can do so without delay, others will have to wait for authorization. We talked to a medical supplies manufacturer that reopened its doors mid-February.
This article was initially published in our sister publication DirectIndustry magazine.
Wuhan is better. President Xi Jinping said that the spread of the coronavirus was “basically curbed.” In the epicenter of the epidemic, the city of 11 million inhabitants who were in complete quarantine the last 6 weeks, some companies are back to work. These include medical companies, public services suppliers and supermarkets.
We spoke with Kathie Ke, International Business Manager for Wuhan-based medical devices manufacturer WEO. The company produces medical supplies such as oxygen inhalation turbines and infusion sets. Their factory reopened several weeks ago. She said:
“After the holiday [Chinese New Year], when a lot of people were getting sick, there was an increase demand for medical supplies. On February 14, our company asked the local authorities to increase the production to face the demand, which was approved. We started to call our employees back to work and on February 17, the production started again.”
If WEO wanted to quickly reopen its factory, it is because one of the products of its portfolio is oxygen inhalation turbines. They are important to treat patients that are infected. Kathie Ke said:
“The oxygen therapy is the most important treatment today for covid-19, so oxygen devices such as the one we make are the most needed by hospitals. There was an urgent need to make more of them to treat more people.”
So far, WEO was able to donate 3,000 oxygen inhalation devices to the Huoshenshan hospital, the Wuhan hospital that was built in 9 days. But it was not easy for the employees to go back to the factory. Because of transportation restrictions, only the staff already present in the city are allowed to resume work. WEO provides transportation for the employees from home to the factory and back.
So far, 110 employees are working at the factory. Only the youngest employees have been called back. The older staff, statistically more vulnerable, is still at home.
“We have taken measures inside the factory. We disinfect every day and monitor people’s temperature daily. We make sure that the environment is sterile and clean and that everybody is healthy everyday. Our workers are wearing surgical masks that have a level of protection that is enough for them to work. And we are happy to say that there is no case of Coronavirus in our staff. No one is infected.”
Since the beginning of the outbreak, the impact on the company’s business is being felt. With the restrictions on transportations, a lot of WEO’s employees have not been able to come back to Wuhan. But Kathie Ke wants to look on the bright side:
“Things are getting better now. There are fewer and fewer infected people in Wuhan everyday. The number of cured and released people is increasing and the number of people in quarantine is decreasing. The situation is much better now than in January and February.”
According to the Hubei government, factories working in the automotive and electronics industries will be able to return to work after obtaining an authorization. Other companies will be allowed to restart their activities by March 21st.